War Vegetable Gardening book from WWI

Daniel Bowman Simon of The Who Farm sent me a link to this scanned book: War Vegetable Gardening and the Home Storage of Vegetables by The National War Garden Commission from 1918. I skimmed it and it looks like it has a lot of useful information for today's frontyard gardener.
Picture 1-4Compost is also used as a top dressing during the growing season for hastening growth. In the cities and towns tons of leaves are burned every fall. This is a loss which ought to be prevented. These leaves properly composted with other vegetable waste and earth would be worth hundreds of dollars to the gardens next spring. In planning a permanent garden, a space should be reserved near the hot bed or seed bed, and in this space should be piled, as soon as pulled, all plants which are free from diseases and insects. This applies to all vegetables and especially to peas and beans, as these belong to a group of plants which take nitrogen from the air, during growth, and store it in their roots. When these plants are decayed they will return to to the soil not only much of the plant food taken from it during their growth but additional nitrogen as well. Nitrogen in the soil is necessary for satisfactory leaf growth. The material so composted should be allowed to decay throughout the winter, and when needed should be used according to. the instructions given for using compost. The sweepings of pigeon lofts or chicken coops make valuable fertilizer. Prepared sheep manure, where procurable at a reasonable price, is possibly the safest concentrated fertilizer. It should be used in small quantities rather than spread broadcast. Scatter it along the row before seed is sown or apply by mixing it with water in a pail, stirring the mixture to the consistency of thin mush, and pouring it around the roots of the plants.
War Vegetable Gardening and the Home Storage of Vegetables


  1. Cool! I’ve always wanted to grow some war vegetables instead of the passive things growing in my garden. Can has attack the neighbor’s lawn?

  2. I was just emailing my grandmother about how to plant a garden in the winter!

    This is an excellent find. Thanks so much. I’m an internet kid who has no experience with growing anything bigger than a potted plant; but I’ve got a family of 6 to feed.

    I’m going to learn!

  3. Since this book was printed before the invention of organochlorine pesticides, the advice is probably great.

    Everyone was an organic gardener in 1918!

  4. I’ve always wanted to grow some war vegetables

    I’ll just keep growing sex vegetables if you don’t mind.

  5. biggest reason people have for not gardening is too busy. The bright side of not having a job is having time.

  6. You just can’t get good sheep dung these days.

    Note that most municipalities compost the leaves they collect.

  7. The odd thing about retiring and not having a job is that, somehow, you’re still busy. I don’t get it. Where’s all that extra “time”? There’s not as much stress, true, but there’s not as much time as you thought there would be.

    My grandfather gardened all his life, well into his hale and hearty 80s (except when he was in the Army), and he said, “You take care of your garden and it will take care of you — in more ways than one.”

    His plants loved him, I think.

  8. you’re just experiencing the normal time-contraction effect that balances the early phase time-dilation that time travelers encounter.

  9. Man, that’s a wild bus they’ve got. Those cats have really got their shit together.

    Victory gardens are easy. I lived in a whole neighborhood of them. Plenty of radishes, carrots, lettuce and squash; other stuff, not so much. Beans, peas, tomatoes, other things take time and care. It would be good for everybody and everything if it became a national craze to grow a lot of your own food.

    Ever pick a sun-warm tomato off a vine? All you need is a straw hat and a salt shaker to stalk and catch your own lunch.

  10. So is it possible to get the actual pdf file?

    Google doesn’t seem allow this. Now I am outside the US, so this may be done to prevent the leaking of vital strategic intelligence to tomato farming terrorists, or perhaps it is to prevent me from pirating this document that has long since fallen into the public domain. It is still annoying.

  11. Beans, peas and tomatoes are easy! Use net trellises for climbing beans and peas and it’s a snap!

    For tomatoes, don’t bother staking or using those crappy little cages from the garden center, make your own out of concrete-reinforcing wire. Make sure the spaces in the wire are big enough to fit your hand and a big fat tomato. Don’t taper the cages either, make big old cylinders that are at least chest high. It’s a bit of a twitch to do, but you can reuse the cages year after year.

    You’ll need stakes to anchor the cages. I liked to get bamboo poles from a local rug and carpet dealer. Four for each cage.

    And pick indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. Determinates are for commercial farms, they ripen all their fruit in one go, and then they are done. There’s nothing quite so sad as a plot of determinate tomato plants that have shot their wad. Not nearly as useful for the home garden, unless you want some plum tomatoes to can, make a mess of sauce to freeze, or to dry.

    Celery is a twitch. Maybe it was my microhabitat, but I never could grow celery worth a damn.

  12. Another good source of nitrogen is green grace clippings. If the clippings have dried out in the sun, you’ll be heading over to the carbon end of things.

    For compost, if I remember right, you want about 20% nitrogen (green matter, manure, various proteiny sorts of things like hair) to 80% carbon (dried leaves, straw, shredded newspaper.)

    The compost can’t be dry, but it shouldn’t really be damp either. And you don’t want your pile so big that air cannot penetrate. If you do, the bacteria will be of a sort that are not only less efficient that the aerobic sort, but also VERY SMELLY. Proper compost is not stinky. It is just nice and earthy.

    So an unventilated pile should not be any bigger than 3′ by 3′. If your pile is bigger, one way to get around the ventilation issue is to insert tubes of rolled chicken wire as compost snorkels.

    You can compost the weirdest things. Everybody has heard of composting coffee grounds and eggshells, but a lot of stuff in the kitchen can be composted. I had a bad infestation of grain moths one summer, and I ended up composting boxes of dry spaghetti and macaroni and oatmeal and a five pound bag of flour. If your milk goes sour, don’t pour it down the drain, compost it! That’s valuable nitrogen.

    You want add things that will kill your compost. Good compost, good soil is ALIVE. Foods that are salty are NOT good. Foods that are fatty are NOT good. So spoiled milk and that lowfat yoghurt that nobody got around to eating are good to compost. The half n’ half is NOT good.

    You layer up the nitrogen and carbon, like you are making a massive lasagna. If you have some old compost, it’s a good thing to keep sprinkling a little bit in as you build the pile. It innoculates it with good organisms. And you water the pile just a bit.

    You can walk away and just leave the pile and use it the next year, or you can turn it every week or so and have compost in a couple of months.

    Done right, it gets really hot! Hot enough to melt snow in the winter, hot enough to kill weed seeds and some pathogens. It’s rockette fuel, yee haw! It will make your plants so hsppy that they will share the love with you!

  13. beanolini, No. There’s a point at which your verbal precision hurts your argument. My point stands.

    None of the advice in that book relies on the modern synthetic pesticides (or even the just invented in 1913 – synthetic fertilizers) which the modern Organic movement is built around avoiding.

    The modern Organic movement is needed, because for 70 years we’ve relied on toxic chemicals to increase yields, at the cost of our health.

    Besides, Haber ammonia fertilizers are non-persistent chemicals, they are non-toxic when applied in agricultural settings, and are fully bio-available replacements for otherwise mined materials (guano).

    For those gardeners who want alternative insect control methods, I recommend “The Bug Book”.

  14. #24, MDH:

    The book’s advice may not rely on ‘modern synthetic pesticides’, but using lead arsenate is hardly organic gardening.

    I’m intrigued by the recent focus on the health and pesticide aspects of organic farming; the early texts relating to organic agriculture are mostly concerned with the maintenance of soil fertility, and the relationship of the farm to the wider environment.

  15. If you go to the archive.org link, there are various ways to read it, most of which don’t involve Google’s tedious nonsense.

  16. Actually green matter is anti-nitrogen, in a sense. The bacteria that break things down into compost use huge amounts of nitrogen. If you were to fold uncomposted greenery into your soil, you would impoverish it because the bacteria would quickly suck the existing nitrogen out. For gardening purposes, nitrogen is used by plants and produced by animals, so plant matter needs to be balanced by piss and shit.

  17. #28, Antinous:

    Green Manuring is an established method of increasing soil fertility by folding uncomposted greenery into the soil.

    As Pipenta pointed out above, the carbon:nitrogen ratio is the key to how well this works.

    It doesn’t necessarily matter if the bacteria “use huge amounts of nitrogen”- if the nitrogen ends up in bacterial cells, it’ll contribute to soil fertility when those bacteria die.

    In fact, it’s necessary for bacteria to mineralise the nitrogen in soil (or compost) organic matter before it can become available for plant growth- plants can only take up nitrogen from nitrate or ammonia. Even ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants need symbiotic bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia before they can absorb it.

    The ‘piss and shit’ issue is kind of complex too- under certain conditions, a large proportion of the nitrogen in urine will be lost to the atmosphere. This has the potential to actually decrease soil fertility of grazing land in the long term.

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